Artemi Panarin of the Rangers skates during the third period...

Artemi Panarin of the Rangers skates during the third period against the Flyers at Madison Square Garden on March 1. Credit: Jim McIsaac

When the Centers for Disease Control recommended that the public avoid gatherings of 50 or more people for an eight-week period, it made playing any more NHL regular-season games unrealistic.

Only a few days earlier, on March 12, the league had “paused’’ its 2019-20 season with the hope of resuming play at some point. Given the CDC’s recommendation, it now seems likely that if the league does return to finish the current season, it almost certainly will proceed directly to the playoffs, in whatever revamped form the league settles on as being the most practical.

So with the regular season almost certainly over, who do Rangers fans think was their team’s most valuable player in 2019-20? 

According to an informal and definitely unscientific poll on Twitter, Artemi Panarin is the choice for most.

“It’s been Panarin. He’s been the league MVP, not just the Rangers’ MVP,’’ tweeted a Twitter user with the handle “Artemiy Panarin for Hart.’’ (The Hart Trophy is the name of the NHL’s MVP award.)

“Artemi and it’s quite literally not even close,’’ said another fan.

But the choice was more difficult for some.

“I’d lean Panarin just slightly, but it’s awfully close,’’ another fan tweeted.

“Zibby and it’s not close,’’ was one minority opinion, referring to Mika Zibanejad.

If the question had been asked in January, it would have been a no-brainer.

Panarin carried the Rangers for the first half of the season, performing amazing acts on a nightly basis, lifting his teammates to another level and leading the way to victories over teams no one expected the Rangers to beat.

The Rangers went 8-4 during the 13 games Zibanejad missed with an upper-body injury in late October and November, and Panarin had seven goals and 13 assists during that span.

At the time the NHL halted play, Panarin was tied for third in scoring in the league with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists), and many consider him a serious candidate for the Hart Trophy.

But during the last two months of the season, as the Rangers found another gear and became a serious contender to make the playoffs, several of Panarin’s teammates stepped up in a big way, making the question of team MVP less than a foregone conclusion.

The Rangers were 19-18-4, and seven points out of a playoff spot, after their 1-3 New Year’s trip to Canada. But they went 18-10-1 after that, pulling within two points of a playoff spot when play was halted.

Their surge coincided with the call-up of goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who went 10-2 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .932 save percentage after arriving from AHL Hartford on Jan. 6.

And then there is Zibanejad, who closed the season with goals in six straight games — 11 total in that time, including a team record-tying five in the 6-5 overtime win over Washington on March 5 — and goals in 12 of the last 13. He had 17 goals in those last 13 games and 23 in his last 22.

In the 29 games since that Canada trip, Zibanejad had 25 goals and 19 assists. His 41 goals — in only 57 games — are fourth-most in the league and a career high, as are his 75 points. Panarin had 10 goals and 30 assists in the same span.

Zibanejad also led the Rangers with six game-winning goals this season. Panarin, who played 12 more games than Zibanejad, had four game-winners, tied with defenseman Adam Fox for third on the team behind Zibanejad and Chris Kreider (five).

Some fans look at the team MVP situation another way. “The fact that this is even a question shows how bright the future is. #NYR #playlikeanewyorker’’ a Twitter user named Mark said.

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